Inside the Spice Cabinet: Fennel Seed

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Part of the like-name plant, fennel seed is a spice with a warm, aromatic flavor used in sweet and savory recipes around the globe, and particularly popular in Italian, Indian, and Middle Eastern cooking.

What Is Fennel Seed?

Taste: Sweet
Most Popular Use: Tea, spice blends, and dry rubs for meat

Fennel seed is the fruit of Foeniculum vulgare – or what we commonly know as fennel – a flowering plant in the carrot family. Native to the Mediterranean, these aromatic seeds are now used in cuisines around the world. Fennel seed has an oval shape, and once dried takes on a greenish-brown color, which slowly fades to gray as the seeds age. Due to their similar sweet and subtle licorice-like taste, fennel seed is often confused with anise.

Fennel seed is believed to be a digestive aid. It’s used to make tea and capsules sold for this purpose, and in India and Pakistan, fennel seed is commonly roasted and eaten after a meal with fresh breath as an added benefit.

Store fennel seed in an air tight container, in a cool, dry, dark location for up to six months.

How To Use Fennel Seed

Fennel seed can be used whole or ground up, and are used in both sweet and savory recipes. If you choose to use it whole, be sure to crack the seeds slightly using the heel of a chef’s knife or bottom of a frying pan or pot, to release the fragrant oils.

Fennel seed is a common ingredient in loose tea blends, like chai and lactation tea, and can also be steeped and enjoyed on its own. It’s a key ingredient in five-spice powder, and a regular addition in other spice blends to be used a dry rubs for meat and fish. Fennel seeds add a subtle fragrant sweetness in sausage, marinara sauce, homemade bread and cookies.

Recipes for Cooking with Fennel Seed